My husband and I recently took a canoe trip on one of Kentucky’s many beautiful lakes. For most people, this would simply be another beautiful adventure in the great outdoors. But for someone, like me, who has a “nearly” paralyzing fear of bodies of water larger than a bathtub and a “totally” paralyzing fear of snakes, it was like riding a roller-coaster at an old abandoned amusement park… a roller-coaster without seat belts in an old abandoned amusement park.
A roller-coaster without seat belts in an old abandoned amusement park being operated by a clown with an evil laugh.
OK. You get the idea.
When we set off from the safety of the land (I really, really love land) and the canoe started swaying “too far” that way, then overcompensated by swaying “too far” in the other direction, my mind went full on “fight or flight mode.” It started coming up with scenarios that could get my feet right back on the nice safe land. I thought, “I could say I forgot something…” then, when my husband said, “What?” I could say, “I forgot to stay in the car.”
Then, I thought, “I could say I’m sick… and it won’t be that much of a stretch…”
By the time I was deciding on one approach, I realized we’d gotten too far away from precious land. Frankly, I didn’t have any intention of ruining the husband’s day by making him step in my chicken &$!^.
Just as my brain tried to console itself by thinking, “At least we haven’t seen a s-n-a-k-e yet…” guess what slithered by the canoe with its head held up high, trying to get away from us as fast as possible.
That’s right. A s-n-a-k-e. My brain spells it out… makes them seem less real.
Here’s the kicker. I thought he (she??? – how in the heck would you know??) was downright cute. The whole head up above the water while the body tried frantically to get it to safety made me feel both a kinship and a pity for it.
It was cute. There I said it.
I even somehow managed to raise the camera I was holding in a death-clutch and tried to take a picture of him (her). It was too fast, its fight or flight speed left mine in the dust.
It wasn’t long before I had actually relaxed enough to actually speak. I managed to tell Michael that I was going to need lots and lots of chocolate when we got off that lake.
Chocolate is my adult pacifier.
By the time we’d seen beavers, an epic beaver lodge, herons, eagles, ospreys, geese, and deer (in the distance… they weren’t swimming out there, now THAT would have freaked me out), I was having the time of my life. As the sun began to set, I realized that our canoe trip was nearly over and I actually felt a sense of regret.
Then I remembered the chocolate and all was well.
What I took away from the entire situation was this: Sometimes we tell ourselves SO OFTEN that we’re afraid of this, or we’re afraid of that that we cause the fear to seem larger than it actually is. We make it a huge monstrous two-headed beast when it’s actually usually much smaller, not that monstrous, and has just the one head.
When we allow fear to dominate us, we’re actually giving it too much credit and ourselves not nearly enough.
One thing that helped me fairly early in the canoe trip was a certain little “mental checklist” I did. I asked myself what was the worst case scenario and what I would do if it came to pass.
I determined that if the canoe flipped and I found myself in deep water approached by a s-n-a-k-e, intent on using my soaked body as a buffet, I would club it with my oar. My brain also reminded me that I could always climb back into the canoe and that, after all, I was wearing a life jacket.
After I saw the you-know-what fleeing the scene, it also occurred to me that a clubbing wouldn’t even be necessary. I’d have to chase it to do so and I have no intention of doing that.
Ironically, I was ITS huge monstrous two-headed beast.
During the canoe trip, I also got a live, up close look at what irrational fear looks like. In a canoe near us, a “football player size” teenage boy nearly turned the canoe he and his girlfriend were in completely over. Seriously, they were inches from landing in the water.
He caused such a commotion, their canoe swayed like Gilligan’s ship in the opening credits and I still have no idea how it kept from wrecking.
Come to find out… he did all of that because he saw a spider. I’m not even kidding you. As I was laughing at the big ole boy afraid of a tiny little spider, my over-stimulated and shot out mind asked me, “What are YOU laughing at, snake charmer?”
The day was as enlightening as it was entertaining. My irrational fear came thisclose to ruining it for both me and my husband and I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I chose “fight” instead of “flight.”
It’s not an overstatement to say that it made me stronger. Winning battles does that – especially when you’re your own opponent.
Our minds are utterly fascinating and utterly powerful. While this may seem like a reach, It’s one I’m willing to risk: Our minds determine the world in which we live.
We pretty much create the world we live in all between our ears. If we want something to be beautiful, it will be beautiful.
If we want to find fault in a person or a situation, we will be able to find as many as we’d like.
If we want to make a situation fearful, we won’t have to break a sweat, we can make it horror-story quality.
I’m sure you’re asking the same thing I am… why would we want to create anything negative? Why would we desire to create anything frightening or ugly?
Unless we’re as crazy as crazy has a right to be, we want our world to be beautiful, peaceful, and infinitely happy. Right? Well, the good news is we have the power to set it on the right track.
This power is our mind.
Next time your mind tells you something is scary, ugly, or even hideous, don’t just take its word for it (especially if it spells it out). Step back from the situation, take a deep breath, and create the world in which you truly want to live.
Your Turn: What are your own personal phobias or fears and what have you done to overcome them? Anyone else “highly cautious” around snakes?!